Where the sentimentality in Adam Sandler vehicles often feels clumsily shoehorned in as an afterthought, the Happy Madison-produced films of Sandler protégé Kevin James are committed to phony uplift. These groan-inducing celebrations of schmaltz seemingly exist for the many moments where inspirational strings soar while supporting characters gaze admiringly at James as he travels a predictable arc from apathetic loser to underdog hero. They also throw in nut-shots, vomit, and pratfalls as a halfhearted sop to commercial calculation. James’ thoroughly depressing breakthrough, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, cast him as a pathetic sad-sack trudging through a grim existence before heroism calls. In his somehow even less inspired new inspirational teaching comedy, Here Comes The Boom, James takes an awful lot of hits from life before he ever steps into the mixed martial-arts ring and is physically pummeled by musclebound fighting machines half his age.
James, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director and fellow Happy Madison fixture Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer), stars as a 42-year-old biology teacher whose lost passion for education is renewed when he learns his glowering boss (Greg Germann) is going to shut down the music department—run by twinkly man-sprite Henry Winkler—unless he can come up with $48,000. To raise the money, James begins working with an MMA trainer he meets while teaching a citizenship class, and before long, scenes of James being demolished in a series of comically low-rent matches give way to James steadily making his way up the MMA ranks after evolving from a chump to a contender. In a bid to make James’ ascent to ultimate-warriorhood look realistic by comparison and prove yet again that this remains a man’s world, the film casts Salma Hayek as James’ love interest, a school nurse whose trade comes in handy in light of James’ extensive injuries.
For a film dedicated to time-tested formula and clumsily cross-pollinating Rocky and Mr. Holland’s Opus, Here Comes The Boom is hilariously convoluted and inefficient in its storytelling. Instead of simply making James a gym teacher who becomes a fighter to save the sports department, or a music teacher out to save the band, Here Comes The Boom opts for a strange third option and makes James a biology teacher—a field he does not begin to care about until the third act, and which barely factors into the plot—only tenuously connected to sports through his distant background, and music through his hero-worship of Winkler. Here Comes The Boom barely even attempts to be funny. It’s a meek, joke-light, would-be crowd-pleaser, content to be merely affable. Like many high-concept, low-output comedies, Here Comes The Boom seems to have made it from the pitch stage—Kevin James does MMA to save his school or something!—to the big screen without an iota of inspiration, ambition, or personality seeping in at any juncture.